Wednesday, August 16, 2006



Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, chapter 4:
General Booth of the Salvation Army came on board. I saw him walking backward in the dusk over the uneven wharf, his cloak blown upwards, tulip-fashion, over his grey head, while he beat a tambourine in the face of the singing, weeping, praying crowd who had come to see him off....I talked much with General Booth during that voyage. Like the young ass I was, I expressed my distaste at his appearance on Invercargill wharf. "Young feller," he replied, bending great brows at me, "if I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I'd -- I'd learn how."
The trouble, of course, is that such antics drive away just as many souls as they win.

As is natural for an antediluvian and curmudgeon, I cringe whenever I hear tambourines, guitars, bongo drums, and the like during Mass. All of these instruments have their place. Their place is just not in church.

But the tambourine, or something like it, actually has a very long pedigree in religious ceremonies. S.C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language (1910), and G.M. Edwards, An English-Greek Lexicon, (1914) don't have entries for tambourine. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon at the Perseus web site is out of commission, as it has been practically every time I've tried to access it lately. I thought τύμπανον (tympanon) would be a good ancient Greek equivalent of tambourine, but Richard Seaford, in his commentary on Euripides' Cyclops (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), line 65, points out that the tympanon is covered on both sides with hide, whereas the tambourine is covered only on one side. Seaford also states (on line 205):
τύμπανα (65n.), unlike κρόταλα [krotala = castanets], appear to be, at least in the 5th cent. BC, exclusively instruments of cult (Wegner, op. cit. 40n, 62-3, 64-5, 212-14). The two are associated in the cult of Dionysos and Kybele at h. hom. 14.3; Pi. fr. 70b.9-10 (cf. Hel. 1308-9; Sapph. fr. 44.25; Hdt. 2.60). And they are both played, in 5th-cent. vase painting, by satyrs and maenads dancing in the company of their god (Wegner 212-14, 228-9; particularly striking is ARV2 371.14 by the Brygos painter).
So the tympanon was not only used in ancient Greek religious ceremonies, but was apparently used nowhere else! Perhaps General Booth was on to something after all.

Wegner is M. Wegner, Das Musikleben der Griechen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1949), which is unavailable to me.

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